Much-hyped Wilderness Bar + Kitchen, a new three-storey eating, drinking and lifestyle venue in the Northern Quarter, has just opened this week.
Like Wilderness Record Store in Withington, the new venture is operated by the award-winning team of Dan Morris (ex Cottonopolis and Trof Group), Mat Lake and Bart Murphy both of Junkyard Golf Club and Bunny Jacksons, and Lyndon Higginson from Liars Group, Junkyard and Bunny Jacksons.
“A lot more grown up than the area currently is…”
The credentials are impressive. So what’s it like? We went to find out.
The ground floor is an all-day space, where you can walk straight in or book ahead and enjoy beers and house-made highball cocktails on tap.
The first floor cocktail bar offers an intimate drinking experience where the bar takes centre stage. Food-wise, there’s a seasonal small plate menu including some sensational lamb skewers (more on those later).
And the basement Innovation Room is a creative space with a large communal dining table for both the chefs and the bartenders to explore new flavours. The table is set within the working kitchen and can also be booked out for private dining with a tasting menu served by head chef James Lord, formerly of Manchester House.
The cooking is modern European in style with a strong Nordic feel, and though innovative it’s rooted in simplicity and seasonality.
“I think people don’t want really fussy food, they just want good flavour and great products that they can eat at reasonable prices if possible,” says co-owner Dan who has recently returned from a research trip to Copenhagen with the team where they met Michelin starred chefs, brewers, distillers and foragers.
“We’re trying to strip back everything and do really clean and simple food that just has a lot more impact than you’d think and it’s the same with the drinks. It’s really key for us to keep innovating and growing and learning more about every process we can.”
The dishes focus heavily on the grill, with meat cooked over coals. We tried the most delicious BBQ lamb skewers with an intensely savoury miso and lamb glaze topped with crisp yeast flakes glazed in lamb fat (£5).
There’s a treacly depth of flavour to the celebration of lamb, which includes a taro made from the bones and is loosely inspired by the lamb skewers at Kiln in Soho (crowned the UK’s best restaurant last year).
“I feel like everyone who’s ever been to Kiln just raved about their lamb skewers,” says Dan. “I really wanted that kind of small, snacky dish. But I think we’ve actually made a better one.”
It’s clearly a labour-intensive process for the chefs, but well worth it, and great value for a fiver.
Other highlights from the food menu include little cylinders of crisp pressed potato with smoked egg, brown crab and dill pollen (£5), and slowly braised fall-apart tender short rib, rich and dark with bone marrow and boozy IPA onions (£14).
A sticky treacle tart (£6) comes with cool, clean creme fraiche sorbet.
“We want people to spend some time and come back time and time again. We’re not saying it’s the type of place you’ve got to save a bunch of money for,” says Dan.
“What we’re trying to do is create really accessible food that’s technically very good and based on amazing produce every day.”
And what about the drinks?
Heading up the bar is Adam Day, who has developed a natural menu pairing house-made ingredients, seasonal produce and quality spirits. There’s also low ABV cocktails, natural wines and craft beers.
“Cocktail-wise, we really hope upstairs will be a really special destination cocktail bar,” says Dan.
“It’s designed to minimise the barrier between customers and bartenders so the bar’s in the middle of the room, there’s no back to it, it’s all on one level so people can sit in front and behind the bar.
“We want to tell people what we’re doing and how we’re making these drinks and what’s going on with them.”
And there’s music, too. Mof Gimmers, resident record buyer at sister site Wilderness Record Store in Withington, is curating the music offering, booking his favourite DJs and playing new releases, classics and vinyl reissues.
Dan hopes the new opening will be an asset to the NQ.
“It’s not a flash in the pan, not some silly new fad concept,” he says.
“It’s based on incredibly talented people creating brilliant food and drink from the best possible produce they can find, and I think people always respond well to that. It’s going to be a lot more grown up than the area currently is.”
First impressions suggest it’s about to become a big hit.
Wilderness Bar + Kitchen is open from 11.30am until 12am Sunday – Wednesday, until 1am on Thursday, and until 2am Friday and Saturday. Food is served 12pm – 10pm.